As teachers, we all know the feelings of hope and anticipation that surface the day before school begins for a new year. The desks are ready, the pencils are sharpened, and if you’re an elementary teacher your room is most likely newly decorated. We all begin with the resolve that this year, will be better than any before. However, all too soon it’s October and we’ve somehow fallen back into the same habits and ruts as last year.

Vow now to improve your math instruction this year by following these 3 tips:

1. Look Back at Last Year

Taking a few minutes to reflect could drastically improve this year's math experience for your students. Look at last year's test scores and scan for areas that were the lowest. Test scores give us a snapshot of last year's teaching and student experiences. While they don't tell the whole story, test scores can alert us to areas that we may want to focus on changing and improving.

Also, take 20 minutes to flip through the textbook and last year’s plan book. Memories of last year’s lessons that went well and those that went, well, not-so-well will come to you. Make a quick note right in your teacher's manual of your most important impressions. This quick look will allow you to connect again with your text and allow your subconscious to begin working out the kinks on those topics that need a boost this year.

2. Make a Plan

You wouldn’t start driving to somewhere you had never been without checking a map, or at least Google Mapping it, so don't start your year without some planning. Having a general plan can help ensure that you get to all of the topics you need to and that you don't omit something critical. When it comes to math, make sure that you don't rely solely on your textbook for this plan. Doing one lesson per day from the book and hoping you'll end up where you need to be at the end of the year is risky.

First, consult your state’s standards so that you have a clear idea what needs to be taught. Next, find out which topics are covered in your textbook and which are not. Make notes concerning which lessons you won’t need to teach from the text and which are not covered in enough detail. You’ll need supplementary materials for these.

I always go so far as planning out mathematical topics day by day and the practice (in class or homework) that will accompany these topics. This plan is never followed to perfection, but it does serve as a general guide. I find that if I plan out only the first quarter or two, I never get around to making the plan for the end of the year because I get too busy with the mid-year strains of teaching. I also find that if I don't plan out day-by-day I end up with too many topics to fit in before the end of the year and am forced to rush through concepts. By planning out at-home practice (homework) I can balance the load my students will be expected to handle. This makes for happy students and parents who know what to anticipate and plan their time. When it comes to planning, do it now and you'll thank yourself in a few months!

3. Get to Know Your Students as Mathematicians

Students should see themselves as mathematicians within the walls of your classroom. Promote students’ mathematical confidence by first getting to know them. Within the first few days of school, a brief pre-test of topics to come and crucial topics from last year should be given. Be sure this is brief and that students understand they are not expected to know everything on the test and of course, don’t include it as a graded assessment that counts towards the student’s grades.